Perspectives: Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Yvonne Chaka Chaka

United Nations Equality Champion, President at the Princess of Africa Foundation, and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador

 

Making this business case: a view from South Africa (September 2015)

 

“Violence, harassment and the prospect of arrest cause enormous stress and suffering and can take people out of productive employment altogether. For the individuals concerned, these are personal tragedies. For society at large, they amount to an enormous waste of human talent and creativity and, ultimately, of economic potential.”

 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people face discrimination, exclusion and violence in every country of the world. The United Nations Human Rights Office has documented widespread stigma, violence and discriminatory attitudes. Far too many LGBTI people are rejected by their own families, bullied at school, denied work opportunities, harassed, attacked and even, in some cases, killed, simply because of who they are or whom they love. Shockingly, in 76 countries same-sex love remains a criminal offence, exposing millions to the fear of arrest and imprisonment.

 

For anyone who believes, as I do, in the fundamental equal worth of every human life, these abuses are a moral outrage. My commitment to fighting homophobia and transphobia led me, in 2013, to accept an invitation from the United Nations Human Rights Office to become an Equality Champion in support of the UN Free & Equal campaign. The campaign is helping to change hearts and minds around the world by challenging negative stereotypes and promoting a message of equality, respect and inclusion.

 

This is a cause that should concern all of us. The costs of abuse levelled at LGBTI people fall first and foremost on the victims themselves. But it doesn’t end there. Family rejection and school bullying cause many LGBTI people to miss out on an education, while workplace discrimination limits employment opportunities. Violence, harassment and the prospect of arrest cause enormous stress and suffering and can take people out of productive employment altogether. For the individuals concerned, these are personal tragedies. For society at large, they amount to an enormous waste of human talent and creativity and, ultimately, of economic potential.

 

Research from a number of developing countries points to a link between, on the one hand, protection of the human rights of LGBTI people and, on the other, a country’s level of GDP growth and UN Human Development Index score. Breaking down the barriers that prevent LGBTI people from exercising their rights also frees up people to participate fully and productively in the economic life of their country – which is good for them, good for business and good for development.

 

Eliminating discrimination is never straightforward. We know from past and ongoing battles against racial discrimination and against gender inequality that it takes time and a collective effort. Governments have a key role to play – reforming discriminatory laws, putting in place the necessary legal protections and helping to lead an informed public debate. But business must play its part as well by adopting a more inclusive approach to attracting and retaining LGBTI talent. I welcome the contribution of Open For Business in raising awareness of the cost of homophobia and transphobia, and in making the case for both individual businesses and the business community as a whole to take responsibility for promoting LGBTI inclusion. We all have a role to play – whether as consumers or investors, employers or employees. I hope that this publication can convince many more people to do their part.